As Published in Business 2 Business , August 2004

7 Secrets for Hiring Success
By Ira S. Wolfe

Just like his movie namesake, Harry thought the woman sitting across from him had it all. Sally, the job applicant was articulate, bright and showed real commitment. “This decision is a real no-brainer,” he thought. And that’s when Harry hired Sally.

Six months later, Harry is second guessing his decision and wondering how his instincts could be so off-base.

Well, maybe Harry followed conventional wisdom, which is that competence is assumed before the interview. After all, you don’t waste time talking to people who do not meet stated qualifications.

Traditionally, employees use an interview to confirm the assumption a person is competent and to look for compatibility with the company. To check for competence and compatibility, most employers do four things, in this order: make a list of the attributes necessary to do the job and be a team member, conduct an interview, check references, and trust gut instinct.

Sounds good, up to a point. The rub comes when you make the final decision. Trusting your instincts leads to hiring decisions that have as much chance for a successful outcome as flipping a coin. Actually, evidence suggests that it is much harder to pinpoint compatibility than competence. That’s why so many employees are hired for skills and experience and fired because of attitude and behaviors.

If you don’t know the cost of hiring decisions that sour, consider these facts. The 2004 Recruiting Metrics and Performance Benchmark Report, published just last month by Staffing.org, reported that cost-per-hire was $4,262, an increase of over $260 since 2001. On a broader scale, the cost to hire employees in 2003 exceeded 14 percent of total employee compensation, a 2.5 increase over the two previous years. And this occurred during a period where supposedly the competition for employees was down!

The real cost of terminating the employment of an under-performing or troublesome employee escalates when you factor in lost opportunity, lost productivity, training costs, additional recruiting costs, severance packages, and litigation. This hefty sum ranges from more than the annual salary for an hourly worker to nearly 20 times the annual salary of a key senior executive.

How can you stop your company’s bottom line from taking hits like that?

Let’s first look at one possible reason why these type of hiring mistakes are happening so often. Let’s first look at how job applicants present themselves and their credentials to you, their potential employers.

The Korn/Ferry International Executive Recruiter Index (Part IV) released earlier this year, shows that among job applicants 68.7% fabricate reasons for leaving prior jobs, 68.2% exaggerate results and accomplishments, and 45.2% enhance previous job responsibilities. Combine these statistics with the reality that most past employers give little information other than confirming dates of employment and salaries during reference checks.

So there you are, commiserating with Harry. With so much dependence on guesswork and subjective opinion, what can a manager do to get more favorable odds for making a hiring decision?

To be successful, the small business or hiring manager needs to know which job interview questions to ask, how to evaluate interview question answers and,

how to question and listen with as little personal bias as possible.

I recommend anyone who is responsible for hiring a new employee, follow these three steps:

  1. Identify the job skills that are absolutely essential to do the job. Remember that skills are not likely found in a job description, which focuses more on areas of responsibility.
  2. Develop two to four behavioral interview questions for each skill to learn what an applicant does effectively, and how he or she achieves goals and meets or exceeds expectations.
  3. Complement the interview with personality testing, which may be done on-line. Many personality and pre-employment screening tools like SELECT, FirstView, and TotalView include job-specific interview questions with each report. Job specific personality tests brings balance and reliability to an otherwise inherently subjective system of gut instinct.

Is this doable? Absolutely. However, most employers, especially small business owners with limited human resource capabilities, should look for help with framing appropriate behavioral questions and personality testing. The cost of bringing in a qualified business or human resources consultant pales in comparison to the cost of fixing a bad hiring decision.

You can improve your hiring success rate by 50% by following these tips:

  1. Know the difference between what you need and what you want. Make sure you understand the skills – hard and soft – necessary to do the job.
  2. Prioritize the skills according to absolutely required, important, and nice-to-have.
  3. Don’t just “wing” the interview. Write a structured interview question guide. The guide should include a minimum of two to four behavioral interview questions for each core skill. An automated online program like Interview Generator is easy to use and cost-effective.
  4. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions allow the interviewer to probe how an applicant thinks and solves problems.
  5. Stay away from leading statements and follow-up questions. For instance, let’s say you are evaluating the applicant’s ability to cold call. Don’t ask: “Do you like cold calling” or “This job requires a lot of cold calling. Do you mind doing that”?
  6. Do ask probing questions that dig deeper. Then dig some more. In fact, dig 3 times as in The Rule of 3’s – You need to ask 3 questions to get to “truth”. Begin with “If we hire you, describe how you will bring in new business.” Whatever he or she answers, follow with: “How has that worked for you in the past?”. But don’t stop now. Then ask “Tell me about another way you plan to bring in new business” or “What did you do when your marketing efforts didn’t work?”
  7. Make sure applicants give job relevant information. A job applicant has access to an endless stream of on-line interview tips. Most applicants are well rehearsed for the interview and will anticipate standard questions. Don’t accept a standard response. The interview is not a true-false test but an evaluation to see if the candidate can actually do the job for you.

Ira Wolfe founded Success Performance Solutions to help business owners hire and keep productive employees. His full range of products and services includes Interview Generator, High Motivation Employee Competency Identification and personality testing. Ira is easy to reach at 717.656.4632 or via the website at http://www.super-solutions.com.